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The Scream of Steel (standard:drama, 1001 words)
Author: GXDAdded: Dec 27 2009Views/Reads: 1660/950Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
Once upon a time, when American steel mills dominated world industry, this is what it felt like inside the rolling mill. If you've never heard the scream of steel, now is your chance.
 



The Scream of Steel 

Big Joe slammed his lever down and the mill began to roll.   First came
the whining growl of the pump motors, followed by the splashing of 
high-pressure water jets drenching the roll stands.  Each monster stand 
towered two stories high, their glossy black finish pitted like 
meteors.  The massive steel frames gripped a pair of rolls in Bakelite 
bearings, and when those rolls squeezed an ingot, steel squirted like 
toothpaste from between their teeth. 

As the mill-driving engines started up, our bellies rumbled to their
thunderous echo.  My shoe soles vibrated with the trembling wooden 
floor as power from the iron dinosaur surged into the earth through its 
yard-thick concrete foundation.  Even so, another compelling pulse 
prevailed -- inaudible and softly felt, it commanded me to turn and 
face the roaring mill, the living mill hungry for its steel. 

A shrill rising whistle told me that Mac, in the crane cab, was on his
way to pull the first hot billet from the oven's soaking pit.  Even as 
the din of the mill built up -- a rhythmic, yet melodious cacophony -- 
it became a kind of not-noise, industrial "musique concret", the  
chanting of cruel sirens singing among hazardous rocks.   This symphony 
of sound spoke of power unleashed to squeeze beads of iron sweat from 
six tons of white-hot steel.  And our team became part of the machine, 
sharing its power, sharing its sweat. 

Andy was head roller today.  When he bellowed "Roll!", Big Joe began
moving up the line, sledging control rods to the "on" position with his 
mallets.  Mac rolled his  his bridge crane into position while I 
reached for my tongs and hopped onto the push-out bed.  When that door 
opened, I would be ready, all swaddled in asbestos clothing and clumsy 
gloves with leather shin guards over my hobbed boots and a hooded cape 
to cover my neck.  I lowered my sun shield to gaze at the oven door and 
stood by, waiting for Mac to clamp the jaws of his hoist onto the 
radiant billet. 

Andy had been rolling steel for half a century.  Coarse creases deepened
his eye sockets as he squinted up the line to be sure that each of the 
nine rolling stands was behaving the way it should.  He wore a striped 
engineer's cap and a sweat-stained red bandanna.  Shafts of yellow 
sunlight glared through the open roof ports, lighting up his ruddy 
face.  When he twisted his bull neck, a network of veins bulged up.  
His roar carried over the roar of the mill, "Roll No. One!".   I 
pedaled my switch.  The thick refractory oven door began inching  
slowly upward, squealing and rumbling.  As it rose, an undercurrent of 
sub-sonic tones billowed out of the flame ports.   Its  dry roller 
bearings screeched and squealed against their rusty guides.  Crumbs of 
brittle mortar dribbled from the refractory walls.  Twinges of orange 
flame flickered out of that hellish maw.  Blasts of hot wind enveloped 
me, screaming of anguished steel.  Hot pink ingots of steel were 
stacked inside, glowing from wall to wall, from floor to roof, from 
back to front, inside that huge womb, waiting to be born.  These  
embryos would become, in time, steel beams for towering buildings, 
truck fenders and running boards, stainless steel sinks and cutlery, 
thumbtacks and paper clips. 

Behind the furnace, a powered ram ejected the first white-hot six-ton
billet from its nest into a cruel, chill world.  Mac dragged it into 
the cobbing rolls.  Their giant iron teeth mauled and masticated deep 
corrugations  into the ingot's oxide skin, splitting off slate-colored 
flakes of scale.  These rolls drove the billet onward into the next 
pass.  That was when the steel began to scream. 

My ears recoiled as the guide rolls squealed like an army of constipated
pigs.  Chips of scale ricocheted off my mask.  The din escalated as the 
newborn metal billet came alive in a shower of water jets.  Clouds of 
blood-red steam enveloped the rolling stand and billowed upward 
volcanically to escape through roof vents.   Each protesting screech 
echoed from the mill's grimy walls.  The stench of burning sulfur 
filled my nostrils and set my teeth on edge. 

If you have never heard the scream of steel, don't long for it.  There
is another mother in my blood, where kindred iron atoms of red 
corpuscles in my arteries resonate, weeping with each scream, echoing 
the murder cry of steel chilled by steam and squeezed inexorably 


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